Member Profile: Fayth Centeno, Seeds of Peace

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December 04, 2017

Member Profile: Fayth Centeno, Seeds of Peace

By Elizabeth Walsh

Director, Communications and Marketing

Our Member Profile blog series features Humentum members talking about their work and how they manage the operational challenges within their organizations. This month we feature Senior Manager of Global Human Resources & Administration Fayth Centeno of Seeds of Peace (see photo at right). Based in New York, Fayth has been with Seeds of Peace for 11 years. Here she talks about her career path into development, the impact of the millennial generation on the workforce, keeping up with the pace of change, and how she defines operational excellence.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Seeds of Peace, your background, and your path to this position.

A: Seeds of Peace was founded in 1993 as a conflict resolution program initially for young people from the Middle East, and has since expanded to South Asia and the United States as well. The program gives young leaders from communities in conflict the opportunity to meet one another and the chance to form real relationships alongside an intensive process of dialogue. Our mission is to inspire and cultivate new generations of leaders to transform conflict. For the last two decades, our organization has been building a diverse community of Seeds of Peace Educators from the Middle East, South Asia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, who support Seeds alumni in their home communities while reaching additional youth and adults, allowing us to increase our impact in schools and communities across the regions where we work. Recently, Seeds of Peace added a fellowship program for social entrepreneurs, civic leaders, educators, and artists whose work aims to increase social change and conflict transformation. Our network now includes almost 6,700 alumni throughout the Middle East, South Asia, Europe and the United States who are uniquely positioned to lead change.

I started working in the food service industry after high school and again after graduating college. My time there was spent in management and operations and eventually led me to working in operations in a more corporate setting. I spent time working at law and architecture firms. After some time in the corporate world, I needed a change of pace and found Seeds of Peace. My job at Seeds of Peace was originally office manager but working in non-profit means wearing many hats. The longer I was at Seeds of Peace, the more time I spent working in human resources. I felt that if I was going to work in human resources then I wanted to do it right. I received my certification and took over the human resource needs of the organization. As my HR responsibilities grew, I continued to manage the office and take care of administrative needs. For the past 11 years my position has continually changed leading me to my current position.

What do your day-to-day responsibilities entail?

I am currently the Senior Manager of Global Human Resources and Administration. However, the work of this position expands beyond the department and title. My responsibilities span not only the areas of human resources and administration, but also operations, risk management, compliance, and IT. Working in so many different areas of the organization ensures that each day is different from the last. On any given day, I could be having a check-in with a staff member in Israel, drafting a new organizational policy, recruiting for a vacancy, consulting with our insurance brokers, writing a contract, meeting with risk management professionals, attending a training, researching international labor laws, working on our intern program, or identifying professional development opportunities and resources for staff, among so many other things.

What are some of the operational challenges/issues you face in your organization?

There are several operational challenges, some of which I am sure other NGOs struggle with as well. We have remote staff working in seven different countries and six different time zones. Additionally, some of our staff in the Middle East have different weekends than the US staff. These different schedules can make communication among staff difficult. There are, of course, also cultural and language barriers that exist from time to time.

There is often reluctance from management about proposed procedural changes and organizational system upgrades, which has impeded the development of the operational side of the organization. This makes it hard to equip staff with the tools they need to be successful and feel empowered to do their jobs efficiently. However, I do understand that while it is important to offer the right resources, we also have to have the funding available to make that happen as well.

Another challenge is developing and implementing domestic and international practices, policies and systems that add value to the organization, keep us in compliance with our funders, and stay relevant within our sector. Sometimes it is easier to develop a policy than it is to actually communicate it effectively to our staff, especially given the multiple time zones we work in and the technological challenges we may face at any given time.

What strategies and tactics do you use to respond to these challenges?

In order to keep global communication flowing, international and remote staff often work later to accommodate the NY HQ time zone, and many NY HQ staff start their days earlier to accommodate the international staff as well. All staff employ various forms of communication, including phone calls, texting, emails, Skype calls, and WhatsApp messaging to make getting ahold of each other as easy as possible, no matter where staff is located. Frequent Skype calls, meetings, and check-ins are scheduled to keep staff updated on what is going on in our various offices, discuss issues, and strategize. Maintaining constant transparency in our communication is definitely something that will always be a challenge. As long as we are making that effort and working towards a goal, we are on a good path.

The organization recently held a week-long extensive retreat for our programming staff, and we are planning an all-staff retreat to facilitate team-building and dialogue. The goal of this retreat is to help form a more cohesive team with better communication and improved processes. This retreat will also allow staff who work together but don’t physically see each other often, or at all, to interact with, talk to, and get to know each other better. I think face time is so important, and in this industry we don’t always get that opportunity since many organizations are international and there isn’t always funding for staff travel. This retreat will be a great time for staff training and for staff to get a better understanding of each other’s roles, how they affect decision-making, and their impact on other departments.

Currently the HR department is working very hard to implement upgraded policies and procedures, develop training plans for managers, upgrade several internal platforms, and offer more professional development opportunities for staff. We have a strategic plan in place and have been slowly implementing the changes by highlighting to senior staff the many benefits to the organization the proposed changes and updates will bring.

What HR-related issues do you see on the horizon that Humentum members should be paying attention to?

Forty percent of the workforce today is millennials, and that number is expected to grow to up to 75 percent within the next 10 years, as more and more baby boomers retire. Millennial workers are totally different from their predecessors in many ways, which will transform common office culture and accepted work practices completely. However, I believe that the biggest change that millennials will bring to the workplace is that they regularly change jobs and companies for a multitude of different reasons. The average tenure for millennial workers is less than three years with an organization. Additionally, a majority of millennials are really interested in having meaning and purpose to what they do, which makes them flock to the nonprofit sector. This high turnover for such a large percentage of the workforce will increase recruitment, orientation, and training costs for organizations across the board.

Another challenge currently facing NGOs is the ability to attract and retain top talent. Smaller nonprofits can rarely match the salary and benefits offered by larger nonprofits, foundations, and the private sector. That’s just the reality of working for a nonprofit organization, and I don’t see it disappearing anytime soon. With more and more of the current workforce emerging from university with a huge amount of debt into a tough economy, highly qualified and attractive candidates will most likely accept jobs that offer the best compensation packages that they can find. It’s absolutely true that a lot of this emerging workforce is interested in working for nonprofits, but it’s harder to attract the very best candidates when we can’t compete with what larger organizations, foundations, and the private sector can offer.

The biggest issue that we face though, in my opinion, is the rate of change of rules and regulations, technology, platforms, and societal and cultural trends. In many instances, the rate of updates and changes in these areas, and others, has seemed to exponentially increase in recent years. Keeping up with all of these changes, which occur simultaneously and continuously, while having the limited resources that NGOs, especially small ones, have is difficult and stressful for those of us in HR as well as for managers and employees. It feels like just when you adjust to something, it has already changed and updated. Attempting to navigate these changes—in processes, systems, or whatever it may be—can have a huge impact, both in terms of money and time.

How do you foster professional growth with your team, and with the overall organization?

In the HR department, I encourage my human resources and administrative coordinator to attend as many trainings, roundtables, and professional development opportunities as possible. Earlier this year, we worked closely together to create a strategic plan for our department. She has been assisting me with developing, updating, and implementing several organizational policies and procedures, which is the first time she has been involved in such a large overhaul like this. Her passion is training and development, so I have allowed her to conduct several staff trainings on these newly designed procedures, which she has really enjoyed. I have mentored her in many aspects of human resources that she wasn’t exposed to before, and she has really seemed to benefit from and enjoy it. I also take advantage of trainings and professional development opportunities. Even outside of the office I am constantly reading up on material and publications to stay as knowledgeable and informed of current trends as possible in the HR world. One of my favorite new books is Radical Candor by Kim Scott, a great read if you haven’t read it!

In regard to the organization, honestly, we have struggled for a long time with fostering professional growth among staff members. My team and I aim to offer as many resources and opportunities for professional growth to staff as possible. Additionally, the organization offers a small reimbursement to any staff member who chooses to pursue a professional growth opportunity. However, it is part of my 2018 strategic plan to develop new approaches to encourage more participation in professional growth by our employees as well as additional funding to make it happen.

How do you define operational excellence at Seeds of Peace?

At Seeds of Peace, operational excellence is something that we are striving toward and have been putting a lot of effort into. I’m not sure that we are quite there yet, but individual departments and teams are amazing at what they do. Where we are currently struggling is cohesive excellence between the teams. The departments put a lot of effort into inter-team operations, but the execution isn’t always perfect. For me, having all departments across the organization work seamlessly together is my perfect ideal of operational excellence. However, I don’t know that that is an attainable goal for any organization. Some ways that I believe Seeds of Peace specifically can increase its overall operational success include improving communication channels between staff members and entire departments, more trainings for managers and staff, and removing some of the barriers that stand in the way of success, such as lack of necessary resources. I believe that with the support of senior staff, we will be able to make great strides towards improved operational excellence. 

What do you perceive as the value of Humentum membership for you and your team?

For me, the biggest benefit has been the network of professionals that I have met. When you are working for an NGO, your experiences are going to be different than those in the corporate world. A few years ago, I went to one of the international trainings in DC and met some wonderful people from other organizations. We exchanged emails and they became my HR folks. It was great to have other people in this sector that I could turn to with questions and vice versa. Then I attended the annual conference, which is amazing. There is so much information, but more than that, there’s such a sense of community. Everyone wants to share information and experiences to make each other’s operations better.  And then there are the roundtables. They only happen a few times a year but I really look forward to them. My HR buddies and I decided to start monthly roundtables at my office since there are always issues that are coming up.

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